Transactional emails are automated emails sent from one sender to one recipient, usually related to account activity or a commercial transaction.
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Every interaction you have with a customer or prospect is critical. Whether it’s the first email of a major marketing campaign or a quick transactional email—like an order confirmation or password reminder, for instance—each message plays a key role in building customer relationships and strengthening your brand’s image, both marketing and transactional ones.
What makes an email transactional?
Transactional emails - are automated emails sent from one sender to one recipient, usually related to account notifications or activity or a commercial transaction. Common uses for transactional email or types of transactional emails include:
- Account alerts (account creation emails, subscription ending, credit card expiring, etc.)
- Abandoned cart notifications*
- Event notifications (shipping notifications)
- Order confirmations and purchase receipts
- Responses to customer service inquiries
- Password reminders or resets
- Requests for feedback
- Subscription welcome emails
All of these examples of transactional emails have one thing in common: they all contain information that is uniquely relevant to an individual recipient. This sets transactional emails apart from traditional bulk marketing emails.
*Note that, in some jurisdictions, abandoned cart emails may be considered marketing emails. Take applicable law into consideration when deciding who can receive these emails.
Why are transactional emails important?
Unlike regular marketing emails, transactional emails are often triggered by an action taken by the recipient. Sometimes they’re sent in response to a literal request for an email, like a password reset. At other times, the request is implied. Think about a customer who places an order through your website. They probably didn’t specifically check a box asking for notification emails for a receipt or order confirmation message, but if one doesn’t arrive, there’s a good chance that the customer will reach out to you to make sure you received their order.
Transactional email best practices
To get the most out of transactional email, you’ll need to stay up to date on the best practices. Here are a few to keep in mind.
1. Make it personal
When creating and sending a transactional email, be sure to include both your brand name and your customer’s name. An Experian study found that transactional emails get opened 7% more often when the brand’s name is present in the subject line, usually because it reminds customers of the purchase they’ve made or the information they’ve requested. The customer’s name should be included in the body of the email, too, preferably near the beginning.
- Here’s your receipt, Maria.
- Get excited, Ellen! Your purchase is on its way.
- Hi Bob, did you know that your account is about to expire?
According to the same study, when a transactional email is personalized, it gets 26% more unique clicks than similar emails without the customer’s name included. That said, every industry and every customer base is different; consider conducting an A/B test to see if personalized or non-personalized emails work better for a particular purpose.
2. Remind, upsell, and cross-sell
Customers who open your transactional emails are a captive audience. You don’t want to come across as being too salesy, but, if local laws allow it, work in a few relevant suggestions or reminders organically. In an order confirmation email, for example, you could remind customers to:
- Subscribe to receive email updates
- Join your loyalty program
- Create an account
Adding a cross-sell section can also help to increase your revenue from each customer. An Experian study found that including personalized product recommendations (instead of static cross-sell suggestions) can improve your transaction rate by up to 49%. Remember: if you include personalized recommendations, be sure to use phrases like “our picks for you” to make the language feel more personal, too. Again, you can use testing tools to decide which phrases, content or transactional messages convert better.
What about emails that don't involve orders?
You don’t have to wait for customers to purchase or return something to make product recommendations, but there’s one important caveat to keep in mind. No matter the purpose of your transactional email or the suggestions you’re making, be sure to familiarize yourself with any anti-spam laws that might apply to you and/or your recipients. Many of the laws in place around the world—like the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act, Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), or the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)— put limitations on the amount of marketing content you can legally include within transactional email. Here's some advice on how to make sure your messages don't end up in email spam filters.
Anti-spam laws and transactional email
The U.S. CAN-SPAM Act, overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, is a law that regulates the sending of commercial messages within the United States. It covers bulk messaging as well as any other email message that is intended to promote a product.
Under this definition, transactional emails are not required to comply with the act. But if your message also contains commercial content, like a coupon for a future purchase or an invitation to sign up for a loyalty program, the FTC could determine that it’s primarily a commercial message. To avoid penalties, make sure that:
- Your subject line explicitly states the purpose of the email
- There is significantly more transactional content than commercial content
- Most of the transactional information appears at the beginning of the message
For example, you’d want to avoid wording like: “Thank you for your purchase! We hope you will check out all of our new products, which are on sale this week for 35% off. If you buy today, you’ll receive an extra 10% discount on your entire order!” While this email does lead with the mention of the transaction, most of the message contains information that is clearly an advertisement.
If you (or any of your recipients) are subject to CASL or the GDPR, however, the rules around transactional email tend to be a bit more strict—especially if they contain any commercial/marketing content. Please contact your legal counsel before sending transactional emails if you have any questions or concerns about which anti-spam laws affect you and if your transactional emails are compliant.
3. Be enthusiastic
Whether they’re having something delivered or picking it up in-store, many consumers love the convenience of ordering online. Plus, there’s just something inherently exciting about picking out the stuff you want and anticipating its arrival. Your order confirmation and shipping notifications should keep the excitement going with subject lines like:
- “Your order is on its way!”
- “Get excited — your order is coming!”
- “Packed, shipped, and on its way to you!”
4. Provide an order tracking link
Not only are order tracking links useful for customers, but they can also help boost your click rates, too. In fact, Experian found that the inclusion of tracking links drove a 46% increase in clicks for order confirmation emails and a 62% increase for shipping confirmation emails.
5. Send it quickly
Timeliness is crucial for transactional emails, more so than for any other type of customer message.
Order confirmations and welcome emails
If you’re sending an order confirmation, be sure it goes out quickly so you can use the customer’s excitement and the positive experience they had with your brand to your advantage. A quick thank you note with a personalized recommendation for next time can solidify the customer’s positive image of a company, helping them to think of you when they need something else that you offer.
The same holds true for the welcome email that folks receive when they create an account or sign up for your mailing list. The quicker someone gets a message from you, the more they’ll feel like you value their business.
Support requests and password reset emails
When customers contact sales or email a support department, they typically expect a response within the hour. A SuperOffice study has shown, however, that actual response times are quite a bit slower. The average response time to handle a customer service request is 12 hours and 10 minutes, and 62% of companies never even respond to customer service emails at all.
If you can respond to a support request quickly, even if it’s just an automated email reaching the inbox saying that you’ve received the request, you’re already way ahead of the competition.
How can automation improve your transactional emails?
For many companies, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to respond manually to every customer request. That’s why automating many of those notification emails can be so helpful, especially when they can be triggered by specific customer actions. Some common examples of transactional emails include:
- A confirmation email that’s automatically sent when a customer places an order, or abandoned cart emails when a customer didn't place the order but already has the products in the cart.
- A thank you message sent after someone signs up for a company’s loyalty program
- An automated note sent in response to a customer’s password reset request
Mailchimp’s automation tools allow you to create dynamic messages for any transactional email situation. There’s even an API (application programming interface) that allows your developers to tailor your transactional emails to the specific needs of your business so that they’re even more useful.
Designing your transactional emails
The structure and design of your transactional emails might not seem like a big deal, but they can really help you meet—and even exceed—customer expectations. Here are a few key practices to keep in mind.
Start with the facts
Clarity is good customer service, so start with the most relevant information to your customer’s inquiry.
- Display the order confirmation number prominently.
- Show the name and description of all items ordered. Include photos and prices.
- If the customer bought sale or clearance items, remind them how much money they saved. You can do this item by item, relate it to the purchase total, or both.
- List the customer’s address, shipping method, and estimated arrival date.
- Include the shipment tracking number if one exists.
Use a design or template that presents all of this information clearly so that the customer can find what they need.
Make it easy for customers to contact support
Near the bottom of your email, before the unsubscribe link, be sure to include links that folks can follow if they happen to need support for their order. One link could go to the customer service page on your website, and the others could direct the customer to your social media pages and/or the website for your shipping provider.
Finally, look over your email and marketing message with a customer's perspective, ask yourself if there's anything else someone might want to know, and then add a link to where they can find an answer.
Some businesses assume that if an email is about a transaction that's already occurred—or if it has nothing to do with a sale at all—it’s a lower priority. But that’s not the case. Every transactional email you send is part of the larger conversation with your customers, which means that they need to be informative, engaging, and personalized, just like your regular marketing emails.